Global stocktake at COP 28 ignores food, responsible for 1/3rd global emissions, say leading organisations

More than 100 organisations have expressed dismay over the manner in which agriculture and food systems find almost no mention in the final draft of the global stocktake under the 2015 Paris Convention at the twenty-eighth Climate of Conference in Dubai.

OVER 100 organisations have signed a letter noting the absence of the mention of agriculture and food systems in the draft text of the first global stocktake under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The organisations include the World Wildlife Fund, Food and Land Use Coalition, Environmental Defense Fund, Clim-Eat, Bezos Earth Fund, International Institute for Sustainable Development, The National Conservancy, Mercy for Animals, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, World Resource Institute, IKEA Foundation, Soil Association, EAT, One Acre Fund and Food Foundation.

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding treaty on climate change signed by 196 countries at the twenty-first Conference of Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on December 12, 2015.

Under it, Parties (member countries) have agreed to take steps to curb their greenhouse gas emissions voluntarily (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs).

The aim is to restrict the rise in global average temperature to below 1.5°C (or 2°C in the worst-case scenario) from the pre-industrial revolution levels (mid-1800s).

COP is a mechanism through which the UNFCCC member countries formally meet and discuss the goals and objectives of the UNFCCC.

The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The draft of the first global stocktake of the Paris Agreement was represented at the twenty-eighth Conference of Parties (COP 28) at Dubai on December 5. Global stocktakes are supposed to be carried out once every five years to assess the progress made under the Paris Agreement.

The global stocktake under the Paris Agreement is almost universally seen as the central outcome from COP28— and seen by many as the most important moment in climate action since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Since the stocktake outcome adopted will assess collective progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement to date and guide future climate action, its implications for any relevant topic, including food, cannot be overstated.

On December 8, a revised draft text of the global stocktake was released.

Food systems neglected

The organisations had contended that the word agriculture only received a single passing mention and food systems did not find its place in the draft at all.

The letter notes: “‘Food’ appeared three times, in rote recitations from the Paris Agreement. This [global stocktake] entirely fails to capture the importance of food systems that was extensively documented in the two-year global stocktake’s technical phase meant to inform the final outcome.”

Sebastian Osborn, global policy manager at Mercy for Animals had earlier said “We started the COP28 on a (rightfully) joyous note with the Emirates Declaration— however, if Parties treat food as irrelevant to climate with the declaration’s ink barely dry, I would hold little hope that it will result in any significant action in the future. The COP is not over yet. We have very little time and a tremendous opportunity to make a difference.”

Mercy for Animals is an international non-profit organisation working to end industrial animal agriculture by constructing a just and sustainable food systems.

The Leaflet spoke to Osborn on the draft Emirates Declaration. He said: “The current draft text refers agriculture and food systems (production) in the adaptation section, but the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] IPCC and the global stocktake technical phase are clear that the food systems as a whole— both production and consumption— must be addressed and that this is essential for achieving mitigation and adaptation goals.

As a result, the GST outcome needs to include agriculture in the mitigation section and also include food systems in the adaptation section.

The Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action was signed on December 1 at the COP28. It was signed by 134 countries, covering 70 percent of the world’s land. The declaration is committed to integrate food into the climate change plans of member countries by 2025.

The organisations also noted that although more than 130 countries have signed the Emirates Declaration, including Parties that are major food-related greenhouse gas emitters such as China, Brazil, the European Union and the United States, no Party flagged the omission on food systems.

On December 11, the final draft of the global stocktake was released in which food systems and agriculture have been included, however in a non-committal manner.

The importance of food systems in climate change action

The Leaflet also spoke to Amelia Linn, Director for Global Policy for Mercy for Animals, who explained the importance of food systems.

Linn said that food systems contribute more than “one-third of global emissions” and that is why a transformational change across food systems is crucial to meet global climate goals.

She stated: “Climate action to reduce food system emissions continues to favour production-oriented changes, leaving a sizable gap for mitigating emissions through critical changes in how we consume food.

Linn explained that in order to reduce food system emissions, changes in both how we produce food, such as transitions to more sustainable farming practices, as well as changes in how we consume food, such as shifts toward more plant-based diets and avoiding food waste, are required.

As food demand and supply are interlinked, a focus only on increasing production efficiency could result in an overall increase in emissions, Linn told The Leaflet.

She also spoke on how food emissions depend on the type of food that is consumed. For instance, Linn said that in regions where heavy consumption of animal-based foods is prevalent, we need countries to adopt policies to support shifts to healthy plant-rich diets. These could include financial incentives, such as redirecting subsidies to align with sustainability and public health goals.

Another solution is to implement public procurement policies at national and subnational levels to increase the accessibility of healthy plant-rich foods. Additionally, education and awareness programmes, along with science-backed dietary guidelines, would encourage the adoption of sustainable and healthy diets.

The Leaflet also spoke to Varda Mehrotra, founder of Samayu, a non-profit that works at the intersection of sustainability, climate change and animal rights.

She said: “At COP28, we found ourselves at a crossroads in the narrative of climate change and food systems. The summit, an anticipated forum for groundbreaking policy shifts, particularly in addressing the escalating climate crisis through food system reform, instead became a stage for the meat industry to rebrand itself as a proponent of ‘sustainable nutrition’.

Characterising the “vague” mention of food systems in the global stocktake “a grave misstep”, she added, “Considering that meat production is a major contributor to agricultural emissions, yet provides a minority of our calorie and protein needs, it is imperative to address this sector in our climate action plans.”

Ignoring the impact of animal agriculture not only undermines our efforts to meet the Paris Agreement goals but also neglects the welfare of countless animals affected by climate-related events,” she asserted.

The global stocktake must reconsider its approach and define a deeper scope for food systems, particularly animal agriculture, to ensure a comprehensive and effective climate strategy,” she recommended emphatically.

The Leaflet